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2010 Report: Public Health Preparedness

Preparedness and Response Efforts Require Work at All Levels

While response begins at the local level, public health preparedness requires a coordinated effort involving every level of government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and individuals. Being prepared to prevent, respond to, and recover from all types of public health threats requires that states improve their capabilities in the core public health functions of surveillance and epidemiology, laboratories, and response readiness

Federal response to public health emergencies. Lead federal responsibility for emergency response lies with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), whose National Response Framework established a single, comprehensive structure for responding to all types of hazards.18 In addition, the DHS National Preparedness Guidelines provide the vision, capabilities, and priorities for national preparedness.

Under the National Response Framework, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) coordinates federal assistance supplementing state, tribal, and local resources in response to public health and medical disasters.19 The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) is the principal advisor to the HHS Secretary on all matters related to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. ASPR works with other federal departments and agencies and is charged with the overall coordination and oversight of emergency preparedness and response activities within HHS. ASPR responsibilities include the coordination of public health response activities related to CDC, which is an operating division of HHS.

CDC is working collaboratively to implement the National Health Security Strategy (NHSS).20 The NHSS is a comprehensive strategy established to galvanize efforts to minimize the health consequences associated with significant health incidents. National health security is a state in which the nation and its people are prepared for, protected from, and resilient in the face of health threats or incidents with potentially negative health consequences. The NHSS’ vision for health security is based on a foundation of community resilience – healthy individuals, families, and communities with access to health care and with the knowledge and resources to know what to do to care for themselves and others in both routine and emergency situations. The vision also emphasizes strong and sustainable public health, health care, and emergency response systems.


Public Health Preparedness

The capability of the public health system, communities, and individuals to prevent, protect against, quickly respond to, and recover from health emergencies, particularly those in which scale, timing, or unpredictability threatens to overwhelm routine capabilities.21

CDC mission and preparedness. CDC’s mission is to collaborate to create the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health. CDC seeks to accomplish this mission in preparedness by building and strengthening capabilities that can be used broadly for all types of hazards, whether they are biological agents, natural disasters, environmental exposures, chemical and radiological materials, or explosions. In addition, CDC develops capabilities that are tailored to particular hazardous incidents.


CDC support to states, localities, and U.S. insular areas. CDC also works with state, local, and U.S. insular area public health departments by providing funding, technical assistance, and coordination of activities for responding to public health threats. For severe emergencies, states, localities, and U.S. insular areas22 can request additional public health resources from CDC to assist with a response. To examine how this federal investment is improving the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies, CDC has been developing and implementing capability-based performance measures. The passage of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA, 2006)23 by Congress highlighted the importance of CDC’s work in developing such metrics. PAHPA requires the development of measurable preparedness benchmarks and objective standards for recipients of CDC Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement funding. Funding to state and local agencies was linked to their performance in these standards beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2009.24 (For more information on performance measures, see page 12.)

 CDC building 19
CDC’s mission is to collaborate to create the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health.

Photo source: CDC

Partnering to improve emergency response.
CDC and public health departments work with multiple partners from a variety of sectors. Key partners include the American Red Cross, Association of Public Health Laboratories, Association of Schools of Public Health, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, National Association of County and City Health Officials, and National Emergency Management Association. These organizations share promising practices, conduct research, and provide training to public health professionals to improve preparedness and emergency response.



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